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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 February 2007, 12:26 GMT
Lost Greek boy 'may be sex victim'
By Malcolm Brabant
BBC News, Athens

A leading child psychologist has accused police in northern Greece of covering up the activities of a paedophile ring.

Alex Mechisvili
Greece has been gripped by the case of the missing boy

The claims by Dr Christina Antonopoulou, were made on the first anniversary of the disappearance of 11-year-old Alex Mechisvili, the son of a Georgian migrant.

Alex, a talented pianist, vanished in the town of Veria, on his way home from a basketball game.

Five of his schoolmates have been charged with murder.

Alex's body has never been found.

Paedophiles suspected

Dr Antonopoulou, a lecturer for 22 years at Greece's National Police Academy, alleges that she was thwarted by the police and judiciary as she tried to investigate a paedophile connection on behalf of Alex's mother Natela Ichuadze.

Mrs Ichuadze and her lawyer, Pythagoras Ieropoulos, are calling on the government to authorise a new inquiry by national police.

Natela Ichuadze
Natela Ichuadze wants a new inquiry into her son's disappearance
"I knew from the start, from my experience, that this case was linked to the sexual molestation of children," said Dr Antonopoulou.

"This disturbed many people in Veria and they began to express their hostility. I am talking about the legal department, the police and people in political offices. I was very surprised how people began to close in when we came to discuss names that could be involved in Veria."

Dr Antonopoulou now needs a bodyguard when she travels to what is known to Interpol as "The Triangle of Abuse" - an area of northern Greece bounded by three towns, Veria, Edessa and Kozani.

"I don't think the police wanted to touch the area of paedophilia. I am sure they know the paedophiles of Veria, but the police were trying to cover up," she said.

Suspicions that a major paedophile ring was operating in the region grew earlier this year, when a businessman from Edessa was charged with assaulting a number of young boys and paying their parents money to silence them.

One of the victims in Edessa has identified at least one of Alex's alleged murderers as being involved in paedophile activity.

The police in Veria, a town reputed to be a centre for the trafficking of people and drugs, declined to be interviewed about Dr Antonopoulou's accusations.

They said they could not talk because the legal process involving the alleged murder was still under way.

The Greek Public Order Ministry, which governs the police, ignored a request for an interview.

No trace

To date, the story concerning Alex's disappearance from the police perspective is totally different.

Marble steps in Veria
It was claimed Alex died after falling down these steps
It is based on alleged confessions from the five boys, aged 11 to 13. Three of the suspects later withdrew their statements, claiming they had been obtained under duress.

According to the police, Alex was chased through the streets of Veria, and ended up having a fight near the town hall.

It was claimed that he was killed after he fell down marble steps.

The boys are said to have carried his body to a derelict house next to the town hall.

Two days later, it is alleged, they wheeled his body in a supermarket trolley through the streets of Veria, and dumped it in the fast-flowing river that runs through the town.

Despite a forensic search of the house, and underwater sweeps of the river, no trace of Alex has ever been discovered.

Dr Antonopoulou believes this is an implausible scenario.

"In my experience, it is unheard of that five boys could commit such a horrible crime and keep that secret, so that no-one, neither the police nor a special psychologist, could bring out the truth."

Natela believes her son was targeted because he witnessed possible sexual activity between adults and his alleged killers.

The week before Alex disappeared he said to his mother, "I have seen what happens to kids who are not supervised by anyone."

But he would not open up. "We suspect it was something like paedophilia. I made a statement to that effect.

Perhaps Alex didn't know what he was witnessing, or he was too ashamed to say. But I consider it was very important," said Natela.

Taunts

Standing in Alex's neatly arranged bedroom, eyes brimming red, Natela said she was now sustained by the desire for justice.

"I must remain strong for Alex," she told me. "I must find him, or I must find the people who made him something ugly."

"We want our son back, alive or not."

As part of her search Natela approached the head of a Roma clan, who is reputed to be the crime boss of Veria, and who was once implicated in the hunt for Ben Needham, a three-year-old British boy who vanished from the island of Kos in 1991.

Natela said she asked him "Did you abduct my son?"

"'No', he replied. 'We don't steal children that old.'"

Natela is frequently taunted by the five young murder suspects. "They were hanging outside my apartment the other day, and I told them to go away."

The youngsters are free to roam the streets of Veria, while an investigating magistrate decides what to do next.

The family fears they may escape trial because of their age.

But more than anything they worry that the real culprits are getting away with murder.


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